Apolonia Dangzalan, a Filipino resident of Watsonville, California, was interviewed on April 27, 1977 by Meri Knaster, an editor at the Regional History Project, as part of a series of oral histories documenting local agricultural and ethnic history. Dangzalan was born in February 1896 in San Nicolas, Ilocos Sur, northwest of Manila, on the largest of the Philippine islands. Her family owned some land on which rice and corn was cultivated by sharecroppers. Her uncle was the president of San Nicholas. Dangzalan attended school for five years but was unable to continue due to illness. Her father died when she was five years old and her mother died when she was seventeen. In 1923, at age 27, she married. A year later she and her husband immigrated to Oahu, Hawaii. Her husband worked in the sugar cane fields and Dangzalan began a small business in her house sewing clothes for the Filipino community. This was the first of many small businesses she would run throughout her long life. In 1925 she and her husband moved to San Francisco, and then to Stockton, California, where her husband worked as a laborer in the asparagus fields.
Dissatisfied with her marriage, in 1926 Dangzalan divorced her husband and moved to Marysville, California, where she bought and managed a pool hall and restaurant frequented by Filipinos, Mexicans and Anglo Americans. Although she enjoyed this work, business was not too good. She heard that Watsonville and Salinas were much better places to be in business because they attracted a large Filipino community that came to work in the fruit orchards. So after five months in Marysville, Dangzalan joined her nephew, Frank Barba, in Watsonville, California. (Frank Barba is also the subject of an oral history published by the Regional History Project.) Dangzalan opened a boarding house for Filipino agricultural workers on Bridge Street in Watsonville, California, where she became known as "Mama" Dangzalan. After a few years, her nephew, Frank Barba, took over the Watsonville boarding house and Dangzalan opened another boarding house on Salinas Road in 1930. Most of the workers she housed were working for the Gary Company, and Dangzalan also served as a labor contractor, hiring men to work in the company's fields. Dangzalan was one of very few women engaged in labor contracting.
Dangzalan engaged in diverse business activities besides labor contracting. She also opened a liquor store, dancing club, and pool hall on Main Street in Watsonville in 1936. During World War II she owned a house of prostitution on Union Street in Watsonville. She hired an American woman to manage it for her.
In 1950 Dangzalan stopped working as a labor contractor and went into business for herself as a farmer, primarily growing strawberries. After four years of this she was tired. In 1952 Dangzalan was operated on for kidney cancer. She withdrew from all of her businesses except for the International Groceries and Liquors store on lower Main Street, which she was still running at the time of this oral history interview in 1977. At age 81 Dangzalan was still working in the liquor store until 2:30 in the morning. In her field notes, interviewer Meri Knaster described Dangzalan as "a very spry and active eighty-one year old". Dangzalan continued to operate the liquor store until 1982. She died in 1992, at the age of 96.